They say there is no such thing as good or bad — only certain realities that contrast our expectations. And when I say “they”, I mean “me”. I say that. And I believe it.
Four years ago, I had a one-on-one with Bring Me The Horizon’s bassist Matt Kean ahead of the release of That’s The Spirit — an album that quickly turned out to be as divisive at is was seminal. It was a harbinger for what was to come. Yet still, we were never ready.
Back then, the band was only cresting the horizon in terms of where its sound was heading and I remember Matt saying outright over the phone, “It’s already written and recorded now so we’ll just have to deal with [the reviews]. But there’s no real pressure on us. At this point, it either does well or it doesn’t.”
I admired his devil-may-care approach towards what could potentially be career-destroying negative criticism. I remember wondering if that kind of outlook was sustainable in a culture where vitriol-fueled online abuse, boycotts and smear campaigns have become so commonplace that a 7-day week doesn’t feel complete without at least one incident. As it turns out, the band’s approach was sustainable as fuck. In retrospect it’s easy to see why.
People who make a habit of hating are quick to forget that their own voices make the targets of their hatred even louder, which is always a bonus for the target — and especially so if the target is an alternative rock band. An emotional reaction is better than no reaction at all and if ever there was clear-cut evidence to support this, consider that That’s the Spirit topped not just the US Alternative Charts but also the Australian ARIA and Canadian Billboard Charts in 2015.
amo, the band’s sixth opus, feels like a living internalisation of That’s The Spirit’s purist fallout. It’s like the band harvested and nurtured the collective ire of that “wronged” 22% portion of its fanbase and transmuted it directly into 12 new songs. The result is a refreshing brand of self-aware music that only four years of life, growth and death could instil.
Still, that doesn’t mean a certain calibre of fan won’t rage quit after the first few opening tracks. Those coming to amo expecting something similar to Sempiternal or anything that came before it (with the exception of Suicide Season Cut-Up!) have another thing coming. amo’s fascinating assortment of club-friendly dance cuts that make up the majority of the album itself is the kind of stuff online comment-war bloodbaths are made of — but that’s a battle that will rage on for as long as the internet and humans co-exist.
Up in the real world, amo has catapulted the band to new heights. Bring Me The Horizon has finally been brought the horizon they so craved, only to have swiftly moved beyond it and into fertile new valleys of untapped sound. This is the kind of album in which no two tracks are alike and everyone is in the dark about what comes next. That said, there’s a discernible golden thread that snakes its way through amo, weaving the album together from a conceptual standpoint.
The overarching theme is, unsurprisingly, well-trodden territory: love, but not love in the conventional sense. Rather, the many incarnations of love: its surprise arrival; its toxic deterioration; it’s unexpected betrayal; its painful aftermath; its co-dependence; its medicinal properties; its cult-like qualities. It’s all in there. Love, like death, is a many-faced god.
Yet still, amo is not a “concept” album, it’s more of a complex album. It’s a commentary on life itself, addiction, infatuation and betrayal; it’s also a journal of heartbreak, a tongue in cheek glance at millennial life and a big fuck you to the band’s haters. amo is saying many things at once without diluting any one message — a feat in itself. It’s also heavier and darker than That’s The Spirit yet somehow feels more youthful, buoyant and raw — less of a natural progression and more of a paradigm shift.
The title itself, amo, means “I love” in Portuguese and let’s face it, pretending that a lot of the album isn’t just one huge subtweet to Oli Sykes’ ex-wife would be doing a disservice to our comprehension of amo as a whole. “I love”, in light of Sykes’ messy, public uncoupling, comes across as more of a chronic affliction than a declaration of any kind. “I love, therefore I am… in pain”.
The opener echoes this sentiment with a soaring soundscape of cinematic synths and the ominously angled lyrics, “I apologise if you feel something”. In this track (much like in most of the album) you get the feeling that the lyrics are far more loaded than they let on. This lends an emotional weight to the album that is hard to find elsewhere in 2019. Plus, it gives amo an air of unpredictability that is arguably a better approach than simply rehashing more of the same, especially in a music industry where ingenuity and unpredictability are fast beginning to trump continuity and familiarity.
No track off amo better demonstrates Bring Me The Horizon’s penchant for unpredictability than Nihilist Blues, their multi-layered collaboration with adored Canadian singer and songwriter Grimes. Nihilist Blues is quite literally everything except actual blues. This 5+ minute musical microcosm manages to successfully merge euro house and drum & bass elements with nu-metal and alternative rock to create an audio palette more vibrant than anything we’ve come to expect from not just Bring Me The Horizon, but any contemporary artist currently playing in the space. With amo, the creative ante has been upped in a big way.
But it’s not all surprise collabs and genre fluidity. The band’s first two singles off amo — “MANTRA” and “wonderful life” — both feature a sound more aligned with what hardcore Bring Me The Horizon fans are familiar with after the last 15 years. Both tracks are heavy, unashamed anthems that seem custom built for screaming over the moshing heads of rabid crowds on large-volume stadium tours — a jarring juxtaposition to some of the more pop-infused or electronic dreamscape tracks off the album — but not at all an unwelcome one.
In short, amo shines brightest and slaps hardest with its ability to be so many things to so many people at once. It’s an ode to the versatility and creative scope of the band and doubles as a testament to the evolution of their sound and their maturation as individual artists.
It can’t be classified as objectively good or bad. It’s just different. And to me, that makes it really good (not bad).